The Search for Missing Woman Lauren Cho: Human Remains Found

What happened to Lauren Cho

Facebook/Katie Couric Media

Special investigators have taken over the search after local police “exhausted” their efforts.

After the shocking death of Gabby Petito received nationwide coverage last month, we’ve seen widespread discussion online about “missing white woman syndrome” — the unsettling trend of Americans paying so much attention to the plight of missing white women, but not reacting the same way when women of color need our help. 

Petito’s father recently echoed this sentiment: “I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing and need help,” he said. “And if you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves it.”

One of the cases gaining prominence as part of this conversation is that of Lauren Cho, who hasn’t been seen since June, when she left her Airbnb on a remote hiking trail in California. Over the weekend of October 9-10, human remains were found in the search for Cho. Southern California authorities say the remains, found in the high desert, may take weeks to identify.

Who is Lauren Cho?

She’s a 30-year-old Korean American woman from New Jersey who was traveling with friends and her ex-boyfriend in Joshua Tree National Park in California. On a “Find Lauren Cho” Facebook page run by her family to help with the search, her loved ones described Lauren, who goes by “El,” as “a talented musician, an incredible baker, a hilarious and loyal friend, a strangely intuitive gift giver, and probably the coolest sister one could hope for.”

When was Lauren Cho last seen?

Cho’s friends told police their last sighting of her was June 28, when she left the home where they were staying and went into the desert with no food, water, or phone. At the time, Cho was on foot and wearing a yellow T-shirt with denim shorts.

Her ex-boyfriend Cody Orell is the last known person to have seen Cho. He told authorities they were together until he briefly went inside the bus they’d used to travel across the country. When he exited, Cho was gone. “There was a 10-minute window there, and she evaporated,” Orell said.

Orell called the police at 5:13 pm on the Monday that Cho went missing. He later told the Hi-Desert Star that he suspects she may have gotten into a vehicle with someone — possibly a person she’d previously been in contact with. “On Sunday, she was going out to meet someone and wasn’t saying who,” Orell said. “I didn’t pry into it then, but of course now I wish…”

How has the search for Lauren Cho been carried out so far?

After reporting Cho’s disappearance to authorities, Orell and his friends set out to look for her in the surrounding area. They found no evidence of her, and when law enforcement joined the search later, the only tracks they spotted were that of the search party.

Almost a month later, police conducted an aerial search on July 24, and they searched the property where the group was staying a few days later. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told NBC the search has been ongoing since Cho was first reported missing, but the office’s Specialized Investigations Division has gotten involved since local police “exhausted their investigation.”

What does Cho’s family say about comparisons to Gabby Petito?

On their Facebook page, the family resisted drawing direct parallels between the two women’s circumstances.

“We realize that on the surface, the public information for both cases share some similarities,” they wrote. “We understand the frustration many of you have expressed about how and why certain cases receive national coverage. Ultimately, these two cases are NOT the same and the differences run deeper than what meets the public eye. We are wholly appreciative of the love that continues to be shown to El. We empathize deeply with Gabby’s family and hope that both our cases bring forth positive resolution.”